I'm working on establishing a standard office procedure for our office when dealing w/ divorce and personal auto policies. I've done some reading on the procedures when the ex-spouse is not a named insured and my specific questions are tailored towards when the ex-spouse IS the 2nd named insured and is non-responsive to our office.
Our office has the stance that we like to speak with both parties anytime there is a separation or divorce; however, we will occasionally run into the situation where we don't have good contact info on the ex or they are non-responsive to any contact we make. At what point are we able to remove the other party? If the first named insured sends in a copy of the formal divorce decree, are we able to then proceed with removing the other party?
In addition to the good things you are doing, in the case of a non-responsive ex-spouse, you need to be sure to do four others:
- Document the titles, usage, and locations of all cars on current policies and deal with that information appropriately
- Send a postal letter and email to the last known address of the nonresponsive person, explaining exactly what changes are being made to the policy and strongly suggest he or she get in touch with you.
- Maintain cell numbers for ALL members of households so you can reach out that way; and if course document that attempt and if contact is made, do as appropriate and document.
- Determine and document all potential and previously listed drivers and add as appropriate.
If property coverage is also in place, that is another whole set of issues.
When I teach personal lines classes, I facetiously advise not letting your insured's get divorced because it causes a LOT more work and exposure for you.
BTW: Commercial "breakups" have their own issues and needs for an agency to address.
It's rarely safe to remove a policyholder without their consent - ideally in writing. If a former or separated spouse isn't willing to sign a policy release, then it's best to let the current policy lapse and issue a new policy for the spouse who wants to continue their coverage. Even then it's a good idea to advise the former or separated spouse of the cancelation by sending notice to them at a new address. The person wanting to continue coverage could even authorize their removal from the current policy and its transfer to the other party.
There are several companies now that have introduced provisions in their policies that authorize any named insured, or in one case the first named insured, to make changes to the policy including removing the other policyholder. In those cases where there is contract a provision like that, removal of one insured by another may be appropriate. Even so, it's a good idea to notify the affected party whenever possible.
This is a touchy situation and a possible E&O exposure. You cannot remove a named insured without their permission. You could remove the other ex-spouse and write a new policy. However, there might be a problem if the remaining spouse does not receive a premium notice and the policy lapses. I would try to get an address of the ex-spouse and send a letter that he or she should obtain separate coverage, either through you or another agent.
I would let the insurer make the decision since only they and the insureds are parties to the contract. The first question is, what's the hurry to remove the other party? Is one of the parties requesting that? If so, have that person get the other party to respond and comply.
What can or can't be done is governed by the insurance contract's provision for who is authorized to make changes. It may also be governed by how the parties are shown on the declarations, for example, John AND Joan Doe or John OR Joan Doe.
The bottom line is that I would not do anything to reduce or eliminate coverage for a named insured without express written permission.
It isn't a simple question because of the legal implications. In most cases, you'll want to be on record recommending that your client discuss this with his or her attorney. The important thing for fact finding is to inquire about the ownership of all property (houses, cars, RVs, investment property, etc.) and the occupants or users of these properties. If those steps are done carefully, you'll know if there's another party who needs to be addressed. If there is one, whether it be an ex-spouse, a trustee, lessee, etc., the situation should be referred to a senior member of your team to be sure all of the exposures are handled correctly. There are too many potential problems to deal with in this short-answer forum, or in your checklist for that matter.
I do not think a spouse who is a second Named Insured on a Personal Auto Policy should be removed as a second Named Insured on that policy unless and until the agency receives direct communication – preferably in writing – from the second Named Insured that he or she approves of the change. Having said that, I understand this can be an emotional and “sticky" situation when the second Named Insured is unresponsive.
The definition of “you" and “your" in the ISO PP 00 01 Personal Auto Policy appears clear in regard to the situation when the spouse ceases to be a resident of the same household. However, it is not nearly as clear in regard to the situation when the individual no longer is the spouse of the first Named Insured.
Hopefully, the agency can retain the second Named Insured as a client under a new Personal Auto Policy in his or her own name and make all adjustments to the original policy at that time. I understand, however, that in many contentious separation or divorce situations, the departing spouse doesn't want to have anything to do with his or her former relationships, including his or her insurance provider.